High school counselors have a lot on their plate. They must make themselves available to hundreds of teenage students who are going through new experiences and preparing for a road ahead that may include college, the military or the workforce.
A counselor may not have all the answers but their job, if they can't help the student, is to find someone who can, or at least put together a plan of action to resolve the issue. That could involve the parents, teachers, tutors and more depending on the problem.
High school can be stressful, both socially and academically. In addition to balancing a social life, school, sports and even a part-time job, students must also be thinking about SATs, ACTs and college applications. A counselor can help them prepare for the road ahead.
Erin Collins has been a high school counselor at Horizon Community Learning Center for 14 years. When she started, the high school was not an "honors" high school yet and she said it was seen more as an alternative school. Student motivation and poor grades were the problem then and was the push the school needed to raise the standards for its students.
"When we started, the kids just didn't buy into the whole high school situation and we made a conscious effort to turn into an honors school," said Collins, who used to work for Teen Lifeline, a crisis hotline. "We have higher requirements than most schools, which now leads to issues of a different nature - stress being one of them."
When student are stressed about their workload, Collins said they can bring in tutors to help with their assignments or just be an ear for them to talk to.
"There are a lot of pressures growing up, there is no doubt about that," she said. "We are cognizant of their needing to do well and there is a high level of wanting to get out and achieve. We work with them on problem solving the issues they have."
Desert Vista High School counselor Amie Hickel said one of the main components of her job is to help students prepare for college, which includes getting applications in on time, keeping them aware of scholarships, monitoring standardized test scores, and seeing that they are motivated.
"Motivation is what we struggle with and what parents struggle with," Hickel said. "One of the things we do to improve motivation is to ask them what career they see themselves in and what they want to be in. Then we can outline a path to reach that goal."
For Tempe Union High School District schools, while they still help with emotional development, the focus has become more academically-based. Hickel, who is a gifted student counselor at DV, said the TUHSD governing board made a decision years ago to shift away from emotional development and gear a counselor's job more toward academic progression. While they do not ignore an emotional problem in the least, they now divert the student to another source who can help.
"We don't do therapy but when we see signs, or a teacher or parent sees signs, we have a conversation about the next steps in identifying the problem, whether it's drug use, depression or anxiety," Hickel said. "We do work with them on things that can happen on campus, like finding them a group to eat lunch with at school. Each case is different."
For high school students who are looking at increasing selectivity in both college and the job market, it can definitely be a stressful time. But a counselor can help put things into perspective and help them make the best choices for the long road ahead.
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